Lori Castillo Martinez of Salesforce – Future of Work is Opportunity to Integrate DEI Into Core of the Business

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Next week Salesforce’s big industry event, Dreamforce, is back in full force for the first time since the pandemic.  It’s the 20th anniversary of the first Dreamforce, and they’re expecting about 150,000 folks to descend on San Francisco, which is not that far off from where it left off in 2019.

As I get ready to head out west for Dreamforce, I recently had the opportunity to speak with Salesforce’s Chief Equality Officer Lori Castillo-Martinez.  Salesforce has been a leader in the area of diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI), taking up a number of initiatives sparked by the George Floyd murder.  Over the past two years, I spoke with then-Salesforce Chief Procurement Officer Craig Cuffie on a few occasions (in 2020 and 2021) to discuss the company’s efforts to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in employment, leadership, supplier participation and venture capital investment.  And Lori joined me to discuss the company’s continuing efforts in this area, and to share why she feels the future of work is not only being transformed by virtual technologies, but also by integrating DEI deeper into the core of how the business operates – and how it measures success.

Below is an edited transcript from a portion of our conversation.  Click on the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation.

Brent Leary: I saw a recent video of you speaking about diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) as being an important component of the future of work.  I hadn’t heard anyone tie those two together like that before.

Lori Castillo Martinez: Our vision is to be the most inclusive company, you have to have the big audacious goal of getting there. You talked a little bit about that earlier of it’s so hard and it feels like companies take steps forward and steps back. But I think you can’t lose sight of where you’re going. And what we try to do is continue to have that focus on where we’re going.

Future of Work is DEI as well as WFH

We have to evolve where we’re going with where the future of work is going. And the only way to really do that is to make sure that as you’re breaking/redesigning your processes, you’re thinking about what inclusion looks like in the future versus what inclusion may have looked like in the office.

You have to put equality at the center. And so this is something that we think about from hiring through to experience. We have to think about what that means in our hiring process? If you’re going to have people remote in the office, how can we stay connected from everywhere that we’re working so that we can be successful from anywhere where we’re going?

When we think about that in true practical reality, it’s how do you think about those connections? How do you make sure that you keep your culture alive? What are those strategies? And I think for us, it starts with this notion of equality at the center. But the question I get from most people is, okay, that sounds well and good, but what do you actually mean?

For me, it really is about hiring plus experience. It’s about what are the ways that we attract people to come and work in our company? How do we make sure what we say is what we do? And then from an experience perspective, we want to make sure that it’s not just about getting you in the door, but we want you to stay.

We want to make sure that we are figuring out through our data where are those barriers? How do we think about barriers to entry from an attraction perspective? What are the challenges? My gosh, the society is overwhelming. I can’t even say months. It feels like now it’s gone on to years. So how do we make sure that we’re thinking about what’s happening outside?

How do we prepare our managers to be empathetic and supportive? How do we make sure we’re being thoughtful about opportunities? How do we make sure that managers have these sort of new skills and competencies we’re asking them to have to manage in a different way? And then how do we make sure that we’re continuing to listen deeply to our employees?

Because I can sit over here in my virtual square all day long guessing what people want, but I actually need to ask the questions and then I actually need to listen. And so that’s just a constant mechanism of, you know, training ourselves to do that, deep listening and then making sure that we have those mechanisms to continue to bring it in to the way we’re redesigning our work.

And it may be everything from how do we connect in our intentional in the offices to how do you make sure you’re still being inclusive to people who might be on a zoom call when maybe two thirds are in an office and another one third are spread across the world at different time zones. So all of those things together are the inputs, I would say, to ensuring that we’re thinking about equality and inclusion as we’re thinking about the future of work.

The Future of Work and Growing Black and Brown Opportunities in Tech

Brent Leary: How are you seeing the future work impacting ground floor opportunities as well as leadership opportunities? Those kind of two tracks?

Lori Castillo Martinez: I think some of it, again, comes back to experience and being intentional about careers. A couple of years ago, we launched a program called The Warm Line. Very specifically focused on our black, Latinx, indigenous, multi race, and our LGBTQ+ communities, including women of all races. it’s an advocacy and belonging program, and it really gave us some insights about what the barriers were.  Why are people having challenges and why are they leaving your organization? Really making sure that you’re paying attention and listening to that is super important. And I will tell you, one of the number one things that comes up is career.

Sponsors and Mentors

And so some of it is “how do I navigate? How do I find sponsors”? There’s a difference between a mentor that’s helping me figure a few things out and a sponsor. Who’s that? That person that’s talking about me when I’m not in the room, the person who’s seeking me out for those opportunities. And as we started to hear some of that feedback, part of what we’re doing is figuring out how do you get really intentional about those kinds of programs?

How do you teach leaders how to be a sponsor? How do you teach employees how to have that conversation, and to have clarity about what they want their career to be? Because I think what we’ve realized is that there’s accountability on both sides.

I was talking to a group this morning that was sharing with me, “Lori, I feel like an imposter sometimes –  that age-old imposter syndrome.  I’m not sure if I’m qualified. So I didn’t apply for the job”. We’re saying you applied for that job. Don’t wait till you’re 100%. And so some of it is building up that confidence, locking arms of people, really being the sponsors that are encouraging people and being their champions, helping them prepare along the way, too, so that they are best prepared for those opportunities.

Giving Leaders the tools to Lead in DEI

Lori Castillo Martinez: On the lighter side, how do you really work with your leaders and say, is your network diverse both internally and externally? We all have our own personal lived experiences. We all show up with the network that we’ve naturally grown, as you alluded to earlier, in tech. Our networks may or may not be that diverse.

So how do we get really intentional about saying, how do I meet people externally so that when those roles come up, I know who those big names in the industry are? And then internally, how do we make sure we’re thinking about everything from succession planning to proportional slates? And that’s something that we just started talking a lot about.

A lot of people used to be like, we’ll have one woman or one person of color. That doesn’t work. We know already through so many studies that it’s actually about being proportional, which means about being intentional in your sourcing so that you have talent pools that are really diverse. So when those leaders have these jobs open, what recruiting teams can do is become so much more sophisticated.  And our recruiting team, best in the industry, they really went through a whole transformation of 22 different initiatives to make sure we were thinking about careers both externally and internally; so that we’re really thinking about that talent on demand when our leaders are ready to hire. I would say that’s part of the piece that we think about in terms of careers.

Both sides need to be intentional

Lori Castillo Martinez: The other piece I would say is sometimes people are waiting for some big event – like this is going to be how people move up in the organization. And what I tell all of the lovingly referred to as the mushy middle (those hiring managers, the managers, senior managers, directors, senior directors) every day, is every one of you have the power to ensure that your teams are more diverse.  And so look around your team. If you don’t have widespread representation, go out and get it. If you don’t know how to do it, ask the resources within your organization to help you. I guarantee there are someone in your organization that knows where this talent is. Go find it and get connected to it because it’s not going to be me in my position.

Brent, that’s actually going to change it. It’s literally every hiring manager in every organization by them making a different choice, both in hiring and in promotion. That’s actually going to change the makeup of our organizations.

Not following the leader

Brent Leary: You guys have been doing this stuff for years and revenue is still increasing and growing. The business is doing well as you’ve integrated this in.  Is there a correlation there? Do you feel like the business is in a better position because of the things that you’ve done, even looking at it through the traditional lens of financials?  Because it just feels like from the beginning companies have looked at DEI as more of a cost as opposed to a central piece of the business.

But you guys have done that and you have benefited. And it just feels like, well, if you guys are doing it and you’ve been wildly successful, why do the questions remain?

Lori Castillo Martinez: It’s a good question.   Many people come to work for Salesforce because of our values; equality, sustainability or innovation or customer success. And our number one value is trust. So when we talk to why do people come work for us, a lot of it is because of our values.

I think it’s that balance of how you integrate it into the business. It shouldn’t be separate what you do, to your exact point. It’s got to be about how you do what you do. I was speaking with somebody recently and they said, “Oh, my goodness. But don’t you focus on your inclusive language trainings and don’t you focus in…”.

Aligning DEI with business results

I say to them yes, but I start with the business, like where do we align with our business results? We know that our customers are looking for a more diverse sales organization, and so we start to track our representation of our account executives on a weekly basis. Not only do our sales leaders report out their numbers, they report out their representation because we do so much hiring.

This is an opportunity for them to share that, not only do we look at, again, our business results, but we also look at our representation. And those are part of our corporate goals. And so when you line it up side by side, you’re setting that tone at the top that it’s just as important.

Not one person’s issue to resolve

Lori Castillo Martinez: I think that’s where it starts. And then it’s actually the less sexy work that’s rolling up your sleeves, one manager at a time, one employee at a time, in that mushy middle.  That is where you can do the best work. It’s not about what’s this one thing that fixed it.  It’s really the multitude of things that come together. And I think you have to really push yourself on those small wins because those small wins. It starts to build your momentum. And that’s what I hope other companies will learn and take away, because that’s really what’s benefited our business.

Looking at it, it’s not one person’s issue to solve.  It’s each one of us every day making a conscious decision and an intentional decision to the way we hire and then the way our employees experience our organization. Those are the two most powerful things that people can do. And to your point, those are the ways that you start to add value to your organization. It’s much harder to be inclusive when you don’t have representation.   When you have representation people can learn from each other and be curious about those lived experiences.

That’s actually the power of this work. That’s when you start to see those amazing business results because you’re now looking at solving your customers issues through the lens of many lived experiences. Not one myopic way of thinking about the world and that’s the power of it, quite frankly.


This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.